Overview: The method and key tools
If you're a skilled drywall taper or plasterer, you probably use a hawk and
trowel to skim-coat walls. We don't expect to change your mind if you use
those tools as second hands. But if you're a remodeler who does only
occasional skim-coating to fix wrecked walls, you know it's a tough skill to master.
The method we show isn't faster than traditional skim-coating—you have to do two or
three coats and let each one dry in-between. But it's idiot-proof, and the walls will end
up flat and smooth. So if you're a contractor who's given up on skim-coating and you
always call in a taper for the task, you can save on labor by tackling it yourself next time.
It only takes a regular paint roller and a squeegee knife. The 14-in.-wide squeegee knife
we used is called a Magic Trowel. It costs about $25 and is available at some Sherwin-Williams
stores. To find online sources, search for “TexMaster 9927” or “squeegee knife.”
Step 1: Start by prepping the walls
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Photo 1: Prime the walls
Roll a fast-drying, stain-sealing primer on the walls. The
primer seals loose paper and promotes better adhesion
of the joint compound.
With this method, you don't just spot-prime; you roll the
entire wall with a stain-blocking sealer (Photo 1). If you've
always used solvent-based sealers like traditional BIN and
KILZ, it's time to try one of the water-based stain killers.
Zinsser's Bulls Eye 1-2-3 primer works well, and you won't have any whining
from your customers about the smell. But don't rush on
to the next step; let the sealer dry thoroughly before applying
any joint compound.
These are thin layers that won't fix holes or torn-away
paper, or make uneven sections level. Patch these problems
with setting-type joint compound. Let the compound
harden (it doesn’t have to be dry) before you start skimcoating.
Step 2: Roll on the mud
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Photo 2: Roll on the mud
Spread a layer of slightly thinned all-purpose joint
compound on the walls with a heavy-nap roller. Work
in small sections so you can smooth out the joint compound
before it starts to dry.
Mix all-purpose joint compound to about the same consistency
as mud you'd use for bedding tape (the consistency
of mayonnaise, or just thin enough to roll on the wall).
You'll get shrinkage if you mix it too wet. Don't worry if
you get cracking on the first coat; just mix the next coat a
little thicker by spooning in some fresh mud from another
Use a 1/2-in.-nap roller to roll mud on an area about 4 ft.
square (Photo 2). Try to keep it as even as you can so the
squeegee work will go better for you.
Step 3: Wipe it smooth
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Photo 3: Trowel the first coat
Smooth the joint compound with the squeegee knife.
Start in the top corner and pull down.
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Photo 4: Pull up from the bottom
Roll joint compound onto the lower section
and smooth it by pulling the trowel upward.
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Photo 5: Scrape off lumps
Scrape the wall with a 6-in. putty knife to
remove lumps and ridges. Brush off the wall
and you're ready for the next coat.
Smooth the mud with the squeegee knife. Keep a damp rag
and a mud pan handy. Use the rag to wipe the blade after
every few strokes and the mud pan to wipe off excess mud
that builds up on the blade. Starting at the top corner, set
the squeegee knife against the wall and pull it down (Photo
3). Overlap each vertical pass until you finish the section.
You may have to go over some areas a few times. It won't
take you long to get the hang of using the squeegee knife.
When you're done with the
top section, roll joint compound
on the lower half. Pull
the squeegee knife from the
bottom up (Photo 4). Touch up
along the edges as you go.
Let the first coat of joint compound
dry. To speed up drying
time, especially if the air is
humid, bring a space heater and a box fan or two. You don't
have to sand between coats; just knock off lumps or proud
mud lines with a 5- or 6-in. putty knife to avoid streaks in the
next coat (Photo 5).
Step 4: Apply one or two more layers
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Photo 6: Change directions for the second coat
Trowel the second coat horizontally. If you still see
indentations or imperfections after the second coat
dries, trowel on a third coat.
It sounds like a lot of work to apply two or three coats of joint
compound, but the process is quick and the thin layers dry
fast. As you know, the smoother you get the wall, the less
sanding you’ll get stuck with. Trowel off each successive layer
at a right angle to the previous one. After the last coat dries,
pole-sand the wall with 120-grit paper. If you have too many
peaks and valleys, hit the walls with 100-grit first.
Tip: Give this squeegee-like
taping knife a shot for
smoothing out tape joints
next time you tape. It
tapers the edges and
you'll have no trowel or
taping knife marks.